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I personally think the site suffers from banning list questions (which feels like a legacy from Stack Exchange (Programming).

Digests of answers can be especially useful, particularly within the Great Outdoors forums and a few others. Quora has nailed this aspect quite well, and while we are not Quora, we should not disregard the way human beings communicate due to a rigid, inflexible structure.

If the no-list question rule is too prescriptive it will stifle highly engaging questions such as this -

Where in Europe is wild camping permitted?

12K Views | 34 Votes | 14 Answers

Technically, the question is a request for a list and it works really well.

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I COMPLETELY agree that the site suffers from banning questions. In fact, I think that applies to the majority of Stack Exchange sites out there. What's the harm in "bad" questions. Just let them play out - the forum is self-correcting in that manner; bad questions won't get any attention.

I would support any efforts to stop closing questions on this and any other Stack Exchange site

  • @Venture2099 can accept this answer because it's the one he wants to hear, but the fact of the matter is, Stack Exchange has found a method that works well, and list-only questions are not a part of that method. "What's the harm in bad questions?" That's a subject of much debate on Meta Stack Exchange, where you are welcome to join the discussion and make your voice heard. There's a lot of history there that newer users aren't familiar with. We tried "anything goes" in the early days, and that's precisely why things ended up the way they are today. – nhinkle Sep 3 '14 at 16:51
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List problems work OK-ish when a site is small, and right now this site is still small. However, it's already growing, and I think we all hope it will grow larger.

As a community grows (both in size and in age), list questions become harder to maintain. In my opinion, 14 answers is already too many. People coming in from google don't want to read through 14 answers. They want to read the accepted answer and maybe a couple more to get a different perspective. The more people you have and the longer the question's been around, the more answers a question accumulates until it's essentially useless. It takes us right back to the age of forums with 12 pages of discussion and no clear answer.

I suggest reading "Real Questions Have Answers" on the Stack Exchange blog, and this followup discussion on Meta Stack Exchange.

The crux of the issue is that most list questions don't have a single (or even a reasonably finite number) of possible answers. They're incompatible with the Stack Exchange format because there are far too many possible answers.

Your example of "where wild camping is permitted in Europe" contains a perfect example of the right and wrong way to ask these types of questions. The accepted answer has a self-contained list, a summary of which countries in Europe allow wild camping. To me, this is perfectly valid and very useful. A random person finding the post from Google could read that one answer, and have a decent idea of where wild camping is allowed. Mission accomplished.

Every other answer (disclaimer: I only skimmed a handful, as I said, nobody wants to read 14 answers) is only saying "well I know that wild camping is[n't] allowed in (location)". If there were one answer for every country in the EU, that would be 28 answers! Surely that is absurd.

The solution is similar to that for shopping questions: rather than posting an open-ended question, frame it to ask how, or otherwise restrict the scope of the question to encourage a canonical answer. For example, you could ask "Which European countries allow wild camping," and in the body of the question, specify that you would like to know an aggregate source for this information, not answers for each country.

My point is that a question whose answer requires a list is not inherently bad or off-topic, but a question that invites or requires an unlimited number of answers is bad. Word questions such that they encourage canonical answers which may contain lists, and it'll make the answer(s) much easier for you and future visitors to understand.

  • I'd have to agree - 14 answers is not useful for someone coming here to get a definitive answer to a question. – Rory Alsop Aug 16 '14 at 10:19
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    If the true aim of SE is to cater to people arriving from Google then how can you foster a sense of community encouraging people to answer the questions? Surely the law of supply and demand will destroy the site? If no community then no pool of answerers so question responses degrade over time. – Venture2099 Aug 18 '14 at 7:14
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    @Venture2099 I don't think the growth of a community is dependent on allowing list questions. There are plenty of other types of questions allowed, which people are encouraged to answer. "Why do you hate fun" is a common and age-old complaint on various Stack Exchange metas, and yet there are many successful communities in the SE network. If a site can't survive without questions that don't fit the format, then it probably has larger problems it needs to address. – nhinkle Aug 18 '14 at 15:39
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    Your comparison to Quora and references to this site as "forums" implies that you may be unfamiliar with some of that history, for Stack Exchange strives in many ways to be distinctly different from forums and Quora. As I explained in my post, it's possible to reword some would-be list questions so they elicit good answers. We distinctly don't want questions that invite unlimited answers though. Endless responses to open-ended questions is what makes it so difficult to find good information on traditional forums. – nhinkle Aug 18 '14 at 15:42
  • Good points but they don't address the core problem; if there is no sense of forum-like community then the people available to answer questions will shrink consistently. SE becomes question-heavy, answer-lite. I really want to contribute here but the idea that I should stick around long enough for someone to ask a question that gets through the filters and ties into my areas of expertise is just too time-consuming. The answerers would need to log in exponentially more than the questioners. – Venture2099 Aug 18 '14 at 17:01
  • @Venture2099, we have a forum. If we wish to discuss things and get in touch with the community, that's the place to do it a couple of us are logged in and are happy to chat about subjects. But the main site should be for questions and answers only. SE sites were/are a response to forums not providing good answers to questions. They were providing conflicting opinions. SE sites are designed to get away from this (that's why you vote) and provide the best answer to a specific question. – user2766 Aug 21 '14 at 10:32
  • Voting should mean that SE has nothing to fear from subjective, opinion based answers. After all, if Bill Gates himself came to SE and answered a question about Bill Gates it would be classed as subjective and not evidenced based. IE - Ludicrous. A phenomenon which plagues Wikipedia when people KNOW something through expertise but it is not referenced to a white paper, study or book therefore the submission is denied. – Venture2099 Aug 28 '14 at 9:48

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